What is a lobbyist?
A lobbyist is an individual who attempts to influence public policy or other decisions made by public officials to support the interests of their client, association, interest or advocacy group, business or organization that they represent. In general, a lobbyist can be classified as a professional or a volunteer. A professional lobbyist can be either a contract lobbyist, hired to represent their client’s interests before a government entity, or an employee working directly for the organization that they represent. On the other hand, a lobbyist can be a citizen advocate, someone who volunteers their time to attempt to influence a cause or issue.
Lobbying may be one of the least understood professions, and people often have preconceived notions on what a lobbyist is, and what he or she does on a daily basis. The right to lobby is protected by the rights to free speech, assembly and petition guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. The profession of lobbying is regulated in virtually all jurisdictions, and is in fact one of the most regulated professions one can choose. As in every regulated profession, there are individuals who break the law, and bring discredit to the entire profession. There have been many well-publicized cases of lobbyists who cross ethical and legal lines, but it is important to note that there are literally tens of thousands of lobbyists working all levels of government who hold themselves to the highest ethical standards, and never cross the line. Indeed, a successful lobbyist is one who follows the law and whose reputation and integrity are beyond question. Any lobbyist who provides a decision-maker with bad advice or false or misleading information will lose their credibility and their reputation along with it.
Successful lobbyists understand the legislative, executive, regulatory, and procurement process, and are able to research and analyze legislation, regulations, request for proposals and contracts, attend committee hearings, and educate government decision-makers on important issues. Lobbying, like all professions, has evolved. Lobbyists are expected to be reliable sources of accurate information on any issue they engage in. Those who cannot lose credibility very quickly.
In addition, lobbyists assist in the preparation of presentation materials and testimony, messaging, and arrange and attend face-to-face meetings with executive and legislative branch members and staff. Since delivering a message and educating decision-makers is a central role played by a lobbyist, being adept in the art of public relations, social media, advertising, media services, grassroots advocacy and public opinion research are important skills.
Lobbyists also serve as a valuable resource to decision-makers, and can be viewed as an extension of their office staff. With thousands of bills and regulations introduced in each legislative session, lobbyists can provide information and clarification on complex issues, saving members and staff valuable time.
The most successful lobbyists are the ones who can draw on the years of experience and craft the appropriate strategies to move an issue from start to finish. All of the relationships, knowledge, and resources will be wasted if a detailed strategy cannot be implemented with the appropriate tactics to achieve your goals.
A professional lobbyist can be an employee, sole proprietor, or work in a lobbying firm. In the 21st century, a lobbyist needs to be more than someone who has relationships. Every successful lobbyist has relationships, or they would not be employable. Today successful lobbyists are intelligent and personable, possessing all of the strategic communication skills necessary to move an issue, whether it is by educating a single decision-maker, building powerful coalitions, debunking bad information or by moving public opinion.